UK postal service Royal Mail and Skyports Drone Services have announced the launch of the Orkney I-Port operation, a drone delivery project between three islands in Scotland’s Orkney Archipelago.

The experiment is set to run for three months initially, with the possibility of being extended if successful. Letters and parcels will be transported from Royal Mail’s Kirkwall delivery office to Stromness, from where Skyports Drone Services will conduct drone deliveries to Royal Mail staff on Graemsay and Hoy. From these locations, postal workers will then carry out their usual island delivery routes.

Speedbird Aero’s DLV-2 drone is the announced aircraft set to join Skyports Drone Services’ fleet to begin the project.

According to Skyports, the DLV-2, featuring a payload capacity of 6kg and a range of 16km, was selected as the vehicle of choice for the Orkney I-Port project due to its large payload volume, making it ideal for carrying Royal Mail parcels.

Royal Mail said the electric drones for inter-island delivery aim to reduce the company’s emissions. The firm also said the project would improve safety, but did not expand on how.

Chris Paxton, Head of Drone Trials at Royal Mail, emphasised the company’s goals in reducing emissions and enhancing connections between the island communities: “We are proud to be working with Skyports to deliver via drone to some of the more remote communities that we serve in the UK.

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Using a fully electric drone supports Royal Mail’s continued drive to reduce emissions associated with our operations, whilst connecting the island communities we deliver to.”

Skyports received £150,000 ($189,928) grant funding to test Orkney I-Port operation as a part of the UK Government-funded programme Freight Innovation Fund.

Due to the unique landscape of Orkney and the proximity of the islands to one another, this is the first UK drone delivery project which can be conducted on a large scale.

This project will allow for drone flights to be conducted using extended visual line-of-sight permissions rather than traditional beyond-visual line-of-sight permissions.

Skyports Drone Services director Alex Brown emphasised how drone operations can benefit UK logistics: “By leveraging drone technology, we are revolutionising mail services in remote communities, providing more efficient and timely delivery and helping to reduce the requirement for emissions-producing vehicles. 

“The I-Port project also marks an exciting milestone as it is the first operation we are completing with aircraft partner Speedbird.”